A more relevant Gospel

              I would love to put the Mars Hill paradigm to rest, as in rest in peace.

              In Acts 17, Paul speaks to the Athenians about their unknown God. He uses some of their own lingo, and even quotes some of their popular literature. He ultimately claimed that Jesus is the judge of the living and dead and is proven to be by being raised from the dead. This episode has become paradigmatic for contemporary gospel preaching – specifically in attempts to be culturally relevant or missiological or strategic, etc. It is sometimes claimed that Paul searched through the secular literature in hopes of finding an analog to the gospel message. It is more often stated, as a matter of irrefutable fact, that this method must be employed if we hope to make the gospel message relevant.  I submit, or rather aggressively assert, that this is a large pile of hogwash.

              First, Paul’s excursion on Mars Hill was, arguably, measurably, his least significant and least effective. No Mars Hill church was planted that day (irrespective of attempts at contemporary cool expressions thereof). We have no epistle to the church at Athens. There were very few converts (in comparison to Paul’s other endeavors). There were no ongoing meetings. No baptisms. No elders. There were a small handful of names were recorded as believing. In comparison to Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, et al, Athens stands out as the model to be least imitated.

              Second, the approach Paul uses in Acts 17 is the single recorded use thereof. Meaning, if we saw Paul use this approach in other cities and locales, we might should consider it as a paradigm for proclamation. But we do not. If that passage weren’t recorded, we would have zero Bible for any attempt or thought that we must make the gospel relevant by seeking an analog with a targeted culture’s literature or legend.

              What we do see from Paul, far more often and far more effectively, is the claim that Jesus Christ died and rose again and will judge all men – but there is forgiveness for those who believe. And we observe Paul trust in (and remind his audience that he trusted in) the power of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the reality of the risen Christ. It appears from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that he was exasperated after the events at Athens and just swore-off trying to outwit his audience. We do not just need 1 Cor. 2:4. We have Galatians 3. We have I Thessalonians. We have Romans. We have repeated reminders that Paul thoroughly relied upon the demonstrated power of the Holy Spirit.

              It is this that makes the gospel relevant. That God anointed Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit and power, and that those who bear His Name go about doing good and healing all under the tyranny of the devil. What makes the gospel relevant is that Christ has (literally) entered into our sickness and pain and bore them, carried them. Jesus is relevant when Jesus does what Jesus does. God testifies to the Gospel with signs and wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. That is God’s preferred method of relevancy. Power is relevant. Healing is relevant. Deliverance is relevant. Every human being can understand being healed. Pain is common to every tribe and tongue and culture and land. Healing is the clearest sign that something is wrong, but that there is Someone who can make it right. To claim we must find a cultural analog in order to make the gospel appealing is not just false, it is heresy. If analogs exist – fine. If they can be used to illustrate – fine. If God has hidden symbols of the gospel in the hearts and minds of world cultures, wonderful. But not primary. Not pride of place. Faith must not be entrusted to the wisdom of man; it can only rest upon the power of God.

              RIP, Mars Hill.

Civil Disobedience in Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar made a 90 foot statue and covered it in gold. The decree was given that at the sound of the musical instruments, everyone must bow and worship the statue. This was likely to protect and promote loyalty to the king. All were to participate in showing their allegiance to, support of, even devotion to the king. At the sound of music – “”everyone do the thing!”

Idolatry was a party and a matter of pride. If you didn’t do as everyone else, clearly you were contrary. The allegiance had specific behavior to it – you had to bow. Not bowing was met with incineration. It wasn’t just cool and trendy, it was the law. If you didn’t participate, you didn’t just have to endure the “shame-squad,” you would be executed by being burned alive.

Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego did not bow. They didn’t curse the king, tear down the statue, nor did they criticize anyone for bowing. They just would not bow. And they faced the fiery wrath of a pagan nation. The Lord spared them from death, but their devotion to the Lord was not predicated on His deliverance. They would not bow regardless of consequence.

Years later, a law was put in place – for 30 days – that no one may pray to anyone but the king, under penalty of death. It was legal. It was temporary. It was applied – fairly – to everyone. No one was singled out or targeted (not legally, although those behind the law were aiming at Daniel). Daniel was an employee of the king. He was under the king’s rule as a citizen and under the king’s authority as an employee. And Daniel was prohibited, for a mere 30 days, from praying (or at least from doing so in a way where anyone would see, hear or know about it). It was probably ok to go buy furniture, bbqs, and medicinal marajuana, but not to pray (at least not in public).

Daniel could have complied, or at least found a way to comply. He was pretty smart. He could have prayed in a closet, under a bed, or rode out into the countryside alone and prayed. There were no Yahweh-centric sites in Babylon, so no particular place would have mattered anyway – prayer isn’t a “place” anyway, right? The law wasn’t permanent. It would pass. They were all in this together.

But Daniel went up to his room, the same place he always went to pray (which would have been a considerable place, visible and known). He opened the windows toward Jerusalem. And prayed. He prayed aloud (as all Jewish men did). And he did so three times a day. He got down on his knees and prayed. He did not stand on the balcony and proudly thump his chest. He knelt in humility and devotion to God, giving thanks and asking for help (6:10-11). Daniel disobeyed a royal law and a direct order. There was no actual OT law that required him to pray from his room, aloud, three times a day. But he did so in devotion to God, in desperation for God’s help, and in direct disobedience to the ruler of his day.

Both of these examples were rife with risk. The first was a refusal to comply with the crowd’s idolatry. The second was to worship openly under prohibition.

Civil disobedience in Babylon is nothing new. The need for conviction, courage and humility continues.

Your location is not your destination

I feel like a broken record that is responding to a broken record, or that I am beating a dead horse but the horse won’t die. By the way that is a horrible metaphor.

Blogs, articles, commercials – so many telling us that this is the new normal (covid culture). We have to get used to this. Drink the cool aid.

I’ve written elsewhere some argument against all of that. But this morning, reading through the life of David in 1 Samuel I see a great example.

For 16 months David and his army lived in Philistine territory in the town of Ziklag. Before that he’d been living in Gath for a season. Let’s be conservative and say it was at least two years of living in and with and in some cases “as” Philistines.

That would be pretty persuasive. Meaning – it would be easy to conclude that “this” was the new normal. But the life of King David shows that this was not normal – it was an anomaly. They made the best of it. Killed bad guys. Kept Ziklag for future Kings of Judah. But this was not indicative of their identity or destiny. It was a season. And that season passed. Their location was not their destination.

Yet we have two months of covid culture and the gurus claim this is now the way it is. We need to adjust to this. This is the plumb line. We can only grieve well for anything that once was.

Horseradish. This is a season. It’ll pass. We’ll learn stuff. Gain stuff. Get some victories. Make some changes. But this is not our identity nor our destiny. We have greater battles. We have sweeter joys. We have whole new paths to forge and dreams to pursue.

Your location is not your destination. Greater things are yet to come.

~ Dav

Four Cornerstones of Conduct

To whatever degree I have a responsibility to serve others by way of example and encouragement, to whatever degree I must make decisions that affect others, I must base my conduct on four cornerstones.

Conviction: It all begins here. What is true? What is right? What is non-negotiable? What is “worth it”? Conviction is the fundamental “what is” and “why it must be.” Without conviction I will waver. Without conviction I may pander. Conviction cannot come via consensus (although it should be informed and measured by advice). Conviction is what I believe, so help me God. Conviction must prompt action – or prohibit it – or it is just an idea.

Courage: This is my will, my resolve to act upon my convictions. Whether applauded or attacked, whether alone or among others, I will act according to conviction.  Has He not commanded? “Be strong and very courageous.”

Compassion: My conviction and courage must never lead to crassness or callous. Doing what I believe is right will not justify treating someone else wrong. Boldness does not require harshness. Speaking up never requires talking down. Being strong isn’t being a bully. I must care enough about others to respect their courage to disagree with my convictions.

Cool-head: Temperature is “average kinetic energy.” The higher the temperature, the faster the molecules are moving. Hot heads have hyper molecules. Cool heads have self-control. Proverbs says that a fool gives full vent to his anger. James says that everyone one must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Without a cool-head I am just a fool with an overheated opinion.

These principles, in concert, must guide and govern my conduct.

Humanity and post-covid culture

I hear and read many posts / articles / emails that suggest much of the corona-culture will become a new normal. I don’t agree and I want to say so as publicly as I can.

It’s true that many have been exposed to technology – the creative use of technology – that will become part of their on going traditions. It may become a permanent option for some programs and groups. It should!

It’s also true that people have rediscovered the value of sabbath, quiet, even solitude.
People have found out what they can live without. All this is true and will be fascinating to observe unfold.

It will be trendy and profitable to sell business or products or services that are more sanitary, more protective (look for supplements and wearable paraphernalia that aid immunity). For a while, everyone will want everyone to know just how vigilant they are regarding cleanliness and safety.

There have always been germaphobes. There will be more. We may need show greater respect toward subconscious concerns about safe handling of food and other products.

However, I believe it is a massive mistake to assume that humanity will cease being fundamentally human.

We won’t avoid large crowds – not for long. I will wager that, soon, events will be held specifically for the purpose of just having large crowds together – for the energy of it – even for the “edgy-ness” of it. Fear is not a long term deterrent of social behavior. We’ve seen more deadly viruses, shocking and devastating plagues… but none of them have prevented humanity from being human – in the long run. We are risk takers. We are rule-breakers. We crave one another, often in copious portions.

A more immediate and urgent trend will be people seeking meaningful connection in person. Sharing meals together. Singing together. Sharing experiences together. We’ve always identified ourselves (to one degree or another) by our clan, our group, our people. People will crave and cling to groups.

And church: I don’t believe people will drift more toward or settle for screen-time. We SHOULD continue online presence and proclamation!! But there will never be a substitute for the gathered community. There will be an increased desire for authenticity, for real presence, for God’s presence, for participation over presentation.

Some will remain impacted by the fear and trauma. Folks that lived in the Great Depression kept certain spending and saving habits. But those habits soon evaporated (within a generation) in the heat of human nature’s desire for ‘more.’

Hope. Hunger. Passion. Joy. Community. These cannot be restrained, not at length.
History, anthropology, sociology, and THEOLOGY are better guides for navigating the future than are trends, fads or fears.

We will be more human, not less, after all of this. I plan on it anyway.

Thru the Bible

This year I am nudging our congregation and any others willing/interested to read through and respond to the Bible together.
One way that I’ve committed to helping is to offer some videos via social media.
I will also post them here.
Below is a link to the thru the Bible playlist on my you tube channel where I save these vids (they are uploaded to FB and Insta ‘Thru the Bible’).
Just the first vid explains what / why / how… and then we get to the daily…


https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3vSwmi4JzatwWXVGyPhLzELuW14G4-kG

The difference between burning and burning out

I learned something today. I imagine that a host of you might scoff that I did not know this before, but I am honestly happy to at least have learned it now.

Last year, after teaching through the book of Revelation, I became quite intrigued with the lampstand. Jesus walks among them; they “are” the church; the lampstand may be removed… And the idea of the church burning with light that is not its own but fueled by the oil of the Holy Spirit… all these mystical, analogous, yet very real and powerful things left an impression on me.

Today I decided I wanted to try and “light” the lampstand and display it during our all-day prayer meeting. You can’t fit candles in there – and I knew it was supposed to be oil… so I bought a wick, cut it in pieces and placed them in the lamp. I filled the cups with oil and lit the wicks.

Here was my personal “ah ha” today: fire destroys the wick. The wick will burn up, quickly, when set aflame. But… BUT if that wick can soak up the oil, it ceases to burn up, and just burns. The oil burns, but the wick just hosts the flame. The wick becomes the conduit for the oil. The wick can burn bright and pure as long as there is oil running through it. Without a supply of oil, the wick burns out. With fresh oil, it just burns continually.

Wow. There is no substitute for oil. There Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary and totally sufficient. Oil-less effort, personality, will-power, busy-ness, self-reliance, ego, the flesh… all of it will burn into ash. It cannot host the flame. But as we receive and rely (totally) upon the oil of the Spirit, we become conduits of the oil; we host His fire. We burn, but we will not burn out.

Thanks for reading,

Dav’

Life Is Not A Marathon

They – whoever they are – say that life is a marathon. I get the point – that it is long and not a short-term thing and requires endurance etc. But I don’t think life is a marathon. For one thing, marathons are exhausting and people collapse at the finish line. Life is not Designed to be that way.

Life is not a marathon; it is not made up of decades or years or months strung together all the while just looking for the finish line.
Life is made of moments. Small, priceless moments. Moments that, if recognized and embraced, if savored, become rare tiny gems. And if you are careful, you can collect a treasure-chest full of them. If you’re careless, you may have nothing but sore legs at the end of the race.

Tonight, as I was going through unceasing motions of study, writing, and study, my nine-year old came into my office. He asked if his big brother had gone to bed (his brother is 10 years older than he). I said, “yes, Bubba’s been in bed for a while.” “Can I go say goodnight to him?” “No, bud, he’s probably asleep by now.”
He broke. He crawled on my lap and wept. No agenda. Nothing to gain. He just was deeply sad to have missed “good night” to his 19 year-old brother.
He sat on my lap (he’s a biggy) and cried for few minutes. I could have patted him off and sent him to bed. But I had the state of mind – of heart – to just wait. This was a priceless moment. This is life’s savor. I am holding my youngest son to comfort him over not being able to show enough love to my oldest son.
I just got richer.
And I wasn’t running anywhere.

Fresh Hope From the Miracles of Jesus: Water into Wine

It was a wedding celebration five short miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, nestled in a small village named Cana. Mary, the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus was invited as were the small but growing group of His disciples. Family members, friends, and several if not many of the village residents gathered to celebrate. The sun was hot and the warm winds blowing from the sea coast made for the perfect outdoor party. A wedding feast. Everything was ideal for the big event. And then – life happened. They ran out of wine. Not tragedy; not death; not war or famine or violence. Life happened. And on this regular Wednesday afternoon, in a small town, at a no-name wedding, for no particularly epic reason, Jesus performed His first miracle. And hope burst onto the scene like the first rays of a sunrise.

Look at John 2:1-11 with me, and let’s find fresh hope in the miracles of Jesus

John tells us where the wedding was held, and that Jesus’ mother was there. Some early, non-canonical documents suggest that Mary was there as an auntie – that it was her sister’s son getting married. If that is the case, it certainly helps us understand why she was hands-on solving problems and giving orders to servants. It also explains why Jesus was invited – who hasn’t got roped into a family wedding?

Some sources say that by tradition, if not requirement, Jewish weddings were held on a Wednesday. The actual ceremony was held in the evening, after a great feast. Following the feast, the couple were married. Then they would be escorted to their new home – under a glowing canopy of flaming torches and lanterns. They would take the longest route possible to their home, so that all in the village may bless them and wish them well. And the next week or more they would have “open house” – dressed in their finest clothes and richest adornments, being treated like royalty by on in their village. This was a high-point in their lives and the lives of their families. And though a celebration, it was serious… the family’s honor was at stake in the festival going well.

But there was problem. They ran out of wine. We aren’t told why. But we do know that wine was very important. “Without wine,” the Rabbis said, “there is no joy.” This would have cut short the feat and cast a shadow of gloom on the entire celebration. In short, running out of wine would have shamed the family and ruined the occasion for everyone. Life happened.

Has it ever felt like you, too, have “run out of wine?”

Mary comes to Jesus and matter-of-factly informs him, “they have no wine.” I just have to wonder what Mary knew, what she assumed – why did she come to Jesus about this?  People sick, people dying, corrupt tax collectors, oppressive government… and not to mention she’d been informed of the humanity-saving destiny of Jesus by angels when he was born… and she brings him this? Why?

I don’t know. To me it doesn’t make sense why she would bring this kind of problem to Jesus – but I’m glad she did. I bet in hindsight the guests were glad. I am glad for the testimony Mary has provided. Have you ever hesitated to involve Christ? Have you ever wondered if he’d care about what matters to you? May we be as bold and ready to anticipate Christ’s involvement in our lives.

Jesus’ answer may prove troubling to some as we read in the English translation.  It sounds a little rude in the ESV. It sorta sounds like Jesus is saying, “Woman, why you buggin? Ain’t nobody got time for dat.”

Well first, the phrase, “woman,” when compared with other times Jesus uses it and how it used in other Greek literature, is far more affectionate than it sounds. A better reading would sound something more like, “My lady…” Further, the “what does this have to do with me” is a transliteration of a phrase that originally could have expressed two different sentiments: one harsh, one warm, depending on the tone that was used. For example if I said, “I’ll handle it,” that could sound harsh or it could come across comforting – depending on the tone. So, a better way of understanding what Jesus said to His mother was, “I will handle this in my own way; have no more concern over it. My hour – the big reason and purpose for mission – has not yet arrived.” Jesus essentially tells her, “I’ve got this.” Some of us may need to hear those words – “I’ve got this…”

Mary then turns – as if merely mentioning the need to Jesus is sufficient- and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

And nearby stood six stone water pots – used for ceremonial washing. They used the water from these pots to wash off dusty or muddy feet. They used this water to ceremonially wash their hands before a meal, and also to ceremonially wash their hands between courses. If, in fact, they did not wash between courses in the prescribed manner, they were considered unclean. I imagine this got wearisome. Doesn’t religion wear you out? And this was all religion – it was more about ceremony and ritual and fear of being unclean than any real change.

Jesus tells the servants to fill these pots with water, and they did – to the brim. Then Jesus told them to draw the water out and take it to what would have been the “head waiter” – the friend or family member responsible for coordinating the guests and food. His response was this: “you’ve saved the best for last.”  Most people dish out the generic brand after no one notices anymore. But Jesus made available 120-180 gallons of fine wine – more than enough, more than could likely have been consumed by the wedding party. He made more than enough of the best.

So remarkable: many things that man does fades. But Christ’s work never fades or grows dull. He never simply settles for left-overs. We do not have to live off of the stories of the past or the memories of yester-year. Jesus saves the best for last.

In this story of an everyday event in a small town in the middle of nowhere, where “life” happened to everyday people, Jesus works His first miracle. And in this act, unknown at the time by almost all of at the party, his disciples caught a dazzling glimpse of who Jesus was.  And they placed their faith in Him.

What Hope do we find here?

What is revealed to us about God?

Jesus reveals the goodness and kindness of God to help us in our time of need. Christ is vulnerable to our concerns. He is not distant. He is as close as the mention of His Name. Mary didn’t even need to yell. Life happens.  God cares.

Jesus reveals the power and will of God to bring real transformation. The ceremonial washing was powerless. It was ritualistic, and had temporary benefit at best. But in the cup that now holds water made wine by Messiah’s hand, we see that the change that Jesus brings is not ceremonial, but actual. Jesus didn’t turn the stone water pots into wine bottles. He changed the ceremonial washing water into rich and pure wine. Jesus doesn’t give us the Cinderella treatment. He doesn’t change our exterior to make us acceptable to others. He changes us on the inside. And then then he says, “draw out what I’ve given you and give it away” – so that others may taste and see that the Lord is good. So that others may partake of the hope we have.

Jesus reveals how overwhelming and complete His grace is. By turning so very many gallons of water into the best wine. He demonstrates that there is a super abundance of His grace. There is more than enough. Regardless of your need. Regardless of your mess. Regardless of your past or present – His grace is here and it’s more than enough to meet you, to help you, to heal you to refresh you, and give you new life.

Jesus reveals a gospel of joy. The rabbis said that without wine there is no joy, so then what does it mean if there is a super abundant supply of the best wine? It means there is glad tidings of great joy: The Kingdom of heaven is here. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus is Lord. Repent and believe the good news.
How is Our Faith Informed?

We can have confidence to involve Christ in all of stuff of life –  when “life happens.” Mary came to Jesus with a concern that to some, to many even, may make no sense as to how it might concern Jesus. Again, I am glad she did!

What if she hadn’t? Consider what we would have missed? Consider what happens when we don’t…“Oh what peace we often forfeit; oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to the Lord in prayer.”

We can have confidence that obedience leads to our joy. Doing “whatever he” told them – the servants obeyed Jesus. And the result of obedience was everyone’s increased joy. Apparently, we really should obey God for our own good. Nothing good happened here until someone obeyed. Agreeing isn’t sufficient. Obeying is what brings change. I am inspired by the fact the servant filled the pots “to the brim.” Whole hearted obedience, total devotion, nothing held back. No half-way obedience. Come one friends, let’s be bold in our obedience and see just how much of Christ’s transforming power can be produced and released in our lives.

We can have confidence that God’s best is God’s will. Of the wine that Jesus made abundant, it was said it was the best. God does as God is – Profoundly good.
What is the immediate Hope from this Passage?

For those for whom “life” has happened… there is hope. God cares. He can make a way. He’s got this. Involve Him today. Draw near with confidence to the throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16). Believe that, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Cast all your cares on the Lord, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

For those who are out of joy, the next step of obedience can be your gateway to new joy. There really is no better way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey. Bold, whole hearted obedience is the only way to abundant joy.

For those trying to be clean – going through the motions – Jesus Christ will make you new. Put your trust in Him.

Thanks for reading,

‘Dav